By Naushad Khan
The V&A Waterfront is visited by millions of locals and tourists each year and has become an iconic must visit destination at the tip of Africa. I remember the day I drove into Cape Town for the first time, thirteen years ago and it was already 9pm. So I checked into my hotel and just rested after a gruelling 16 hour drive from Johannesburg.
The first thing I did the next morning was find out how I can get to the V&A Waterfront. In fact when I did arrive, most of the shops were still closed, except for the few breakfast spots. I spent most of the day wandering around and even hopped onto one of the harbour cruises that took about 45 minutes. Now that we have settled in Cape Town, the Waterfront is one of our favourite hangouts as a family.
There is so much to see and do and the launch of the V&A Waterfront Self-Guided Historical Walking tour is sure to be a winner.
The free Self-Guided Walking tour provides interesting facts, anecdotes and archive images of a bygone era, taking visitors on a journey through time that promises to bring history to life. It paints a picture of life in Cape Town from as early as 1652 right through to the bustling trade of the V&A Waterfront today.
“The original docks, now the site of the V&A Waterfront, were South Africa’s first link with modern industrialisation. We have 22 original historical landmarks that illustrate this rich and fascinating history. The self-guided walking tour will take our local, national and international visitors on an informative and educational journey,” says Carla White, spokesperson for the V&A Waterfront.
The starting point of the tour is at the V&A Waterfront Information Centre, where visitors may collect their free maps. This building in itself has an interesting story to tell. It is the original rocket lifesaving shed. It housed a lifesaving device which aided stricken ships by firing projectiles carrying lifelines out to sea. The shed was built in the 1870s. From here visitors will follow a series of 30 boards in numbered sequence, placed at significant historical points of interest and at heritage landmarks.
The original Clock Tower and its story is a good example of what visitors can expect to discover. Built in 1882, The Dock Clock Tower and Tide Gauge House have been icons on the docks for more than a century. This much-loved National Monument was used as the Port Captain’s centre of operations until 1904, when his offices moved across the cut to the Pierhead. Beneath the Clock Tower is a well-like shaft, which is linked to the sea by a tide gauge mechanism.
This indicates the exact state of the tide to vessels entering the docks. The second floor of the building houses the mirror room. Lined wall to wall with mirrors, this room allowed the Port Captain a 360° view of all the activities in the docks. The original clock that was made by Ritchie and Son of Edinburgh remains in use today thanks to the restoration. In fact, since all photographs of the old building were in black and white, the only way to find the original red coloured paint was to peel the grey paint off by hand in order to find out what was underneath.
The V&A Waterfront first launched its guided historical walk in November 2011, which may be booked through the Information Centre. Led by a guide in period costume, this paid for guided tour departs from Chavonne’s Battery at the Clock Tower Precinct. It is ideal for people and groups wanting to learn about the significant history of Cape Town in an informative and interactive manner.
The self-guided historical walk is an additional cultural experience now on offer for those who prefer to discover the rich historical background of Cape Town at their own leisure. Walking at a consistent pace, the self-guided tour will take approximately an hour to complete.
‘’This tour is a wonderful outdoor activity, leading you around this multi-dimensional destination while offering beautiful views, photographic opportunities and interesting information at the same time,’’ adds White.
* For more information, visit www.waterfront.co.za or call the Information Centre on 021 408 7600.